One of the most popular events in the Chichester-area athletics calendar celebrates its 25th anniversary from this week.
Wednesday evening (March 1) will see runners of all ages line up in North Street, Chichester, for the start of the 2017 Chichester Corporate Challenge road-race series.
The event was first hled in 1992 and since then, more than 35,000 runners have crossed the finishing line – ranging from senior GB internationals through to fun runners and many near-beginners who have been persuaded by work colleagues make up a team.
Organisers had modest expectations at first with just over 200 runners taking part in a senior-only event. Even then, the standard at the front of the A race was pretty impressive as international steeplechaser Tom Buckner set a course record of 12min 53sec for the 4,500m city-centre circuit.
Chasing him home was Keith Toop in very respectable 13.22, leading a Chichester Waitrose team – which included branch manager Alan Mayhew – to a convincing team victory over the three races that year.
The format has remained the same with the seniors running four laps of just over 1,100m each, with the event split into A and B races to avoid lapping for the top athletes. Once an athlete has run under 18 minutes, they are moved up into the A race.
One of the most consistent squads over the past decade have been DSTL Portsdown although they had to give way to a Westgate Leisure Centre staff team in 2016.
The men’s individual record fell in the final race of the 2016 series when spectators witnessed a thrilling display of front-running from American doctor Chris Zablocki, who had already made a name for himself in cross country and marathon running over the winter.
Zablocki shaved a single second off the time of Commonwealth Games 1,500m champion Michael East with a superb 12.38 finish.
The women’s record is more than 20 years old – 14.15, set by international Zara Hyde Peters in 1996.
As for consistency, there are two athletes who stand head and shoulders above the rest over the 25 years.
Jane Harrop was the first woman to break the 15-minute barrier, setting a course record of 14.42 in 1992, and has amazed everyone with her consistency ever since, competing in all but a few intervening years.
Making his first appearance in 1994 as a Chichester College student was James Baker, who finished a relatively-modest 28th in the A race in 15.18. He has gone on to become the holder of not only the most wins in the event but the most times running under the magic barrier of 14 minutes.
The junior part of the series has become increasingly-important over the 20 years it has been held. From Sidlesham Primary school pupil Charlotte Browning in the late 90s to more recently Josie Czura and Lachlan Wellington from Portsmouth, the event has seen early promise from future national champions.
One runner who attributed her love of running to her first-ever race in the Corporate Challenge has been senior 800m international Adelle Tracy, who had the honour of being one of the six young athletes chosen to light the Olympic torch in London in 2012.
This year’s event is filling up fast with another bumper list of entries already received and those wishing to run are urged to get their entries in fast to avoid disappointment.
Forms are available from the link on the Chichester Runners website and queries can be made by email to race director Phil Baker on firstname.lastname@example.org.
This year’s races take place on March 1, 15 and 29.
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